How to prepare for the Inca Trail

You’ve decided on that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Peru, trekking the famed Inca Trail to the lost city of Machu Picchu so now it’s time to prepare and to help we’ve compiled a handy ‘to do list’ to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible.

Preparation is key for a successful and enjoyable Inca Trail
Preparation is key for a successful and enjoyable Inca Trail

Before you depart

1. Book in advance

The Inca Trail is one of the world’s most famous and popular trekking routes, and with good reason too, as it traverses spectacular Andean scenery and impressive Inca ruins. There’s only 500 permits available per day, which includes porters and trekking guides, so make sure you book your trip at least six months in advance to ensure availability. Don’t forget the trail is closed in February.

2. Get fit

The 4 day hike is a combination of strenuous uphill hikes, steep descents and much-welcomed flats, and trekkers will enjoy the experience far more if they are physically ready for the challenge. You don’t need to be an athlete but once you know you’re going, start getting active with cardio sessions (think running, cycling, rowing or swimming) to improve your respiratory function, and weight-bearing exercises such as squats and lunges to build leg muscle, needed for those infamous Inca steps found on the trail. You can also attempt mini treks somewhere close to home to get used to long walks or pack a bag with some weight and hit the step trainer or treadmill at your local gym for a better idea of what the trek will feel like.

3. Visit your doctor

Altitude sickness can hit anybody at any time with symptoms ranging from headaches to full blown nausea and total lack of energy making you feel like the walking dead. Speak to your doctor about suitable medication that you can take with you to save from suffering.

4. Buy whatever gear you need

Check out our handy Inca Trail packing list and start buying whatever gear you don’t already have. Walking boots are a priority so if you don’t have a suitable pair already, get these first thing so you have time to wear them in properly. Planning what you need to get in advance gives you time to scour the sales and save a bit of cash.

Once in Cuzco

Cuzco is the last stop to stock up on suppliers and acclimatise to the altitude
Cuzco is the last stop to stock up on supplies and acclimatise to the altitude

5. Take a day or two to acclimatise

If you’re flying straight into Cuzco from home or elsewhere in Peru at a lower elevation, the sudden change in altitude can be a shock to the system so make sure you allow a few days to let your body get use to the rarefied air. Most altitude sickness medication needs to be taken a day or two before you get to high altitude so start taking any pills in due time. When acclimatising, eat light meals, stay hydrated, avoid alcohol and take it easy – leave the frantic sightseeing for another time.

6. Source any equipment you don’t have but may need

Cuzco is filled to the brim with outdoor stores selling authentic (as well as not-so-authentic) trekking gear with brands like The North Face and Colombia all represented. Prices vary according to the authenticity though genuine goods are similarly priced to what you’ll find at home. A great alternative is to rent the extra gear you need with a number of rental stores dotted throughout the city – prices are cheap (just 15 soles to hire a pair of walking poles for 4 days) and quality is usually pretty good.

7. Repack what you’ll need for the trek

The day before you set off you’ll need to pack the duffel bag provided by your tour operator with a maximum of 5kg of stuff to be carried by the porters. This will include your sleeping bag, change of clothes and any other gear you won’t need during the day – that should be saved for your own day bag which you’ll carry yourself.

8. Charge your electrical items

This will be the last chance to make sure your batteries are fully charged – the last thing you want to do is have your camera run out of juice half way through the trek and miss that perfect shot of Machu Picchu, the beacon drawing you along your journey.

And that, dear readers, is how you prepare for the Inca Trail or any other trekking route to Machu Picchu – the advice here just as easily applies to the Lares Trek or even the arduous Salkantay trek. Done the Inca Trail yourself? Let us know if you think we have missed anything out in the comment section below.

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